Planning your Wedding

"Thank you for a memorable ceremony. You made it very special for us, and we are very happy with how everything turned out. Thanks."
- Tammie and Randy

Most couples have some idea of what their wedding should look like, feel like and what they want in a ceremony. Few make a list and start to research options from the beginning to the end of their ceremony.

Your Ceremony

Your ceremony is a culmination of all your aspirations and wedding plans, one of the most sacred events of your lifetime. It should be a personal and memorable expression of your love for one another—a reflection of the feelings you have for each other as well as your hopes and dreams for the future. A wedding ceremony you can treasure for the rest of your lives.

This is a graphic overview of a ceremony, arranged in chronological order that may be used for wedding planning. Many options are listed, and there are far too many to be used in one ceremony. One of my roles can be to assist in determining which options are best for you; and during the rehearsal we will practice how to implement your choices with confidence and grace.

  1. To see or not to see
  2. Seating of the guests
  3. Escorting of the members of the family
  4. Entrance of the groom and Officiant
  5. Entrance of the bridal party with some options
  6. Entrance of the ring bearer and the flower girl
  7. Entrance of the bride
  8. The Opening Commentary (with In memoriam)
  9. Opening prayer
  10. Readings
  11. Declaration of intent
  12. Exchange of vows
  13. Exchange of rings
  14. Taking parental vows when a blended family (suggested options)
  15. Symbolic Ceremonies for your Wedding Ceremony
  16. Unity Candle Ceremony
  17. The Sand Ceremony
  18. The Blessing Tree
  19. Roses to respective mothers and acknowledgment of father
  20. The Blessing of the hands
  21. Final blessing
  22. Your embrace and first wedding kiss
  23. Recessional Walk
  24. An Outdoor Ceremony
  25. Backyard Weddings


To See, or Not To See

"Thank you so much for presiding at our wedding. The ceremony was perfect, and our friends and family really enjoyed it too. Also, thank you for taking such wonderful and creative photos. We will cherish them; what a special touch."
- Erin & Chris

This tradition dates back to the days of arranged marriages. Typically the groom would not have ever seen his future bride until she met him at the altar. Oftentimes the groom would see the bride and leave her at the altar, deciding that she was not who he wanted to wed. This led to grooms trying to “sneak a peek” at their future bride before the ceremony so they could make the decision in advance and not have to go through the wedding only to leave her at the altar. To prevent this, it became “bad luck” for the groom to see his future bride before the wedding ceremony.

After the minister pronounced them man and wife, the groom then lifted the veil, not only to kiss the bride, but also to see the face he would be waking up to for the rest of his life.

Of course today most brides and grooms know each other very well before they decide to wed. However, this tradition has continued and it is still considered “bad luck” for the groom to see his bride on the day of the wedding.


Seating of the Guests

Timely arrival is, of course, appreciated and an easy-to-read map included in the invitation, of where the ceremony and reception are taking place, can help to facilitate this.


Music, during this time, is helpful in setting the tone or atmosphere you desire.

Ushers invite the guests to be seated, traditionally, according to the bride’s side and groom’s side. Seating of the guests closer to the couple and the ceremony (no farther than six to eight feet) gives a sense of closeness and support of the marriage union.


Escorting the Members of the Family (Role of the Ushers)

The entrance of the close and significant family members, and their seating, is the first act of a wedding ceremony. Generally, grandparents are seated first, then step parents, followed by birth parents. When the bride’s mother is seated, the ceremony begins.

Ushers have important roles in wedding ceremonies and are recommended to any wedding planning with twenty or more guests attending. Ushers perform at least four essential functions in a wedding ceremony:

  • Ushers escort parents and grandparents to their seats. Even if a mother or grandmother is with her husband, an usher would escort her to her seat and her husband follows. Generally, ushers do not escort all female guests to their seats—unless it is a small wedding or it is a wish on your part.
  • Ushers deploy the aisle runner (if there is one) just before the bride walks down the aisle, accentuating her entrance.
  • Ushers tend to unforeseen problems or needs that may come up during a ceremony and that call for immediate attention.
  • Ushers assist in exiting your guests at the end of the ceremony by directing them to your reception line. It is helpful to have the ushers at the rehearsal session to become aware of their duties.


Entrance of the Groom and Officiant


Entrance of the Bridal Party

"I just wanted to thank you for the nice wedding service last Friday for Kristin and Adam. Things got sort of hectic after the service and I never got to thank you. I was also impressed with how the rehearsal went and all the good suggestions you had. Adam, Kristin, and Dorian are three very special people. Thanks for helping to make their special day turn out as they had planned."
- Diane Nelson

Option 1
Groom, Best Man, and Groomsmen start at altar (on the right)
Mother of the Bride seated by Usher
Mother of the Groom seated by Usher
Bridesmaids walking alone
Maid/Matron of Honor walking alone
Flower Girl/Ring Bearer

Option 2
Best Man seats Mother of the Bride (stands by altar)
Groom seats Mother of the Groom (stands by altar)
Maid/Matron of Honor walks alone
Flower Girl/Ring Bearer

Option 3
Groom waits at the altar
Mother of the Bride seated by Usher
Mother of the Groom seated by Usher
Groomsmen each walk down with a Bridesmaid
Best Man walks Maid/Matron of Honor
Flower Girl/Ring Bearer

Option 4
Best Man seats Mother of the Bride
Groom seats Mother of the Groom (waits at altar)
Best Man has meanwhile walked back around (not up the aisle)
Groomsmen walk Bridesmaids
Best Man walks down Maid/Matron of Honor
Flower Girl/Ring Bearer


Entrance of the Ring Bearer and the Flower Girl

There are roles for children of all ages in ceremonies – from six months to 12 years. These little ones can play the traditional roles of ring bearer or flower girl, or can herald the bride’s entrance as a bell ringer. It is helpful to have an adult or two designated to look after the children before, during, and after the ceremony.



Entrance of the Bride

"Eric and Jamie got a good start to married life with your influence. Thank you so much."
- Pat

The emotional highpoint is when all eyes turn toward the bride making her entrance. The honor of escorting the bride is of course her decision and she may choose to enter in a number of ways:

  • Escorted by her father and/or mother.
  • Escorted by her father or stepfather.
  • Escorted by her children.
  • Escorted by close friend(s) in lieu of absent or deceased family members.
  • Escorted by the groom. In other words the couple walks down the aisle together.
  • Unescorted.

The bride’s entrance can be an opportunity to show gratitude toward someone very special in your life by giving him or her the honor of escorting you down the aisle.
Facing your Guests and Positioning the Bridal Party

A recommendation for the bride and groom is to face their guests. Your ‘audience’ has the opportunity to see and hear you and again photographer(s) will have a better advantage in taking the best pictures. Facing your guests with your bridal party supporting you in this fashion is entertaining, functional and makes for an unbeatable wedding.

A suggestion: The outside shoulders of the bride and groom should slightly face forward toward the audience. This pose is called “quartered out” – a stage term.

Entering with Roses  (Suggested Option)

As the bride passes the guests two or three aisle-side guests will give her a rose. Accepting aisle-side roses from the guests shows the connectedness of the bride to her guests as well as allowing them to symbolically contribute to the ceremony.

When she reaches her place among the the bridal party she will pass these roses to her Maid/Matron of Honor. The roses could also be formed around her bouquet.

The same roses will be used in the ceremony of roses to mothers or placed in an act of memoriam to honor loved ones who are deceased.


The Opening Commentary

"Thank you for being part of our wedding…and a part of the wonderful memories we will have forever."
- Chris and Pat

The officiant may speak to you from amongst your guests, allowing every member of your audience to see and feel this moment with you. The photographer and/or videographer have access to you and your bridal party at this time.

In Memoriam:

Many friends and family have contributed so much to your lives—not just the parents present whom you have honored with the giving of the roses. If appropriate to you, you can honor these loved ones who have passed away with a beautiful act in memoriam.

There are a number of ways to honor loved ones–usually immediate family or close friends-who have passed way:

  • A small photo collage or a photo of the loved one.
  • Lighting candles during the ceremony to represent the loved one.
  • Lay a rose at the base of the picture of the loved one just after the bride and groom presented roses to mothers.
  • Upon walking down the aisle place a rose on a front row vacant seat.


Opening Prayer

Brings a sense of spirituality to the ceremony and begins your ceremony with a spiritual dimension.



"Thank you so much–your presence brought great energy and grace! Your ease and humor with my family was a great pleasure for me. Peace to you my Friend, Love Lori and Jerry"

Readings are a wonderful way to personalize your wedding ceremony and a special way to make your dearest parents and friends participate in your dream day. Seeing one of your guests come forward and give a reading provides your guests with a sense of inclusion, or contribution and demonstrates a connectedness between the bride and groom.

Readings can be short as four sentences. The readings may be abstract and poetic or specific in their meanings. They may come from whatever source you deem appropriate–religious, literary, etc. If the bride, groom or guests speak a second language, consider giving one of the readings in that second language. You honor yourself and their culture.

Two readers are ideal for most ceremonies. One reader is associated with the bride; the other with the groom.


Declaration of Intent

The Declaration of Intent asks both friends and family of the bride and groom to accept the couple as new family and friends.


The Exchange of Vows

The exchange of vows is an oath of fidelity and the most meaningful aspect to your ceremony. You want your vows to touch your mate’s heart as it has never been touched before.

Wedding Kiss

I invite you, if you are so inclined, to write your own vows. Writing your own thoughts of love and your future life together will give a touching intimacy to your ceremony. Your own words can be more meaningful than any other. Writing your own vows gives you the opportunity to share exactly the right words and sentiments with your lover. You could tell the story of your love for him/her and conclude with your vows.


Exchange of Rings

"It was such an honor for us to have you participate in our wedding. Your helpful suggestions early on helped the program evolve from a stuck point! Your letter waiting for me at work following the wedding was wonderful and is waiting to be framed. It will join other pictures and inspirational words on our 'Vision Wall.' Lunch is on very soon after a trip to Ireland."
- Much love, Margee and Pat

Why do we wear wedding bands on the fourth finger?

This tradition reportedly dates back to 3rd century BC Greece where it was believed that a vein led directly from that finger in to the heart. This vein was named the vena amori, Latin for “vein of love.”

Another commonly held belief is that this tradition is from a Christian priest arriving at the fourth finger after touching the first three in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Eastern Europeans, Orthodox Christians, and Jews wear the wedding bands on their right hand; while western Christians and western Europeans wear the ring on the left.

Why does the bride wear two rings?
This tradition comes from Pope Innocent III who instituted a waiting period between engagement and marriage in the 13th century. Before this a ring was only worn to symbolize the engagement.

The circle formed by the ring is the symbol of the sun, the earth, and the universe; of wholeness and perfection, peace and love. It is worn on the  fourth finger–coming from an ancient Greek belief that the vein from the fourth finger goes directly to the heart.

The rings mark the beginning of your journey together. They are the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual bond that unites two loyal hearts in endless love. It is a seal of the vows the bride and groom have made to one another.


Taking Parental Vows (Suggested Option)

Often marriage is thought of as the joining of two people. In reality, marriage joins many lives. This is most apparent if the couple has children. With children present, marriage becomes the proclaiming of a new family. With a loving commitment to those children, the marriage is complete.

As your lives change on your wedding day, so do those of your children. Why not honor them by taking a vow or parental commitment to raise them in a healthy, loving environment? If you wish, you can follow this by giving them a family medallion or similar gift to remind them of this day.


Symbolic Ceremonies for your Wedding Ceremony

"We can’t thank you enough for being with us on our wedding day. Anyone could have done the ceremony, but you infused honesty and meaning, and so much of our own joy in what you do, you made it really special. THANK YOU. Blessing to you and your wife, and your loved ones. Thank you so much for the pictures and the marriage certificate. You got some really wonderful shots!" - Lindsay and Andy

These ceremonies can be a unique and meaningful addition to your marriage ceremony.

Unity Candle Ceremony

Someone said that from every human being springs a light that goes up to the sky. When two lives are intended the one for the other these rays of light join to give the sky a magnificent brightness.

The Unity Candle symbolizes this old legend. (A Unity Candle is not indicative of any religion and is used by all faiths.) Two taper candles, representing the couple as individuals, are used to light a single center candle as a visible symbol of their commitment to each other.

Typically, at the very beginning of the ceremony before the bridal party makes its approach, mothers are asked to light the taper candles on behalf of their son and daughter. After having lit the taper candles they embrace each other. This is a wonderful gesture and shows the mothers–and by extension their families–are delighted in the union of the bride and groom.

The Sand Ceremony

Sand has its own advantages. Unlike the Unity Candle, sand is never affected by wind.

Together, the bride and groom will join this element in a common vase. This implies–once joined, never separated. Where there is a blended family with children, the children also participate.

Sand Ceremony

The Blessing Tree

For couples wanting to bring nature into their ceremony and a means of contribution from their guests–the Blessing Tree is a wonderful option.

A blessing tree is a sapling no more than shoulder height. In mid ceremony, after the exchange of vows and rings, parents are invited to come up and affix a ‘blessing’ to the tree.

"Ben and I want to thank you again for the wonderful ceremony. Many people came up to us to ask about you and how we met. My family especially enjoyed having dinner with you. I hope our paths cross in the future! Love, Ben and Linda"

A ‘blessing’ could be poetry, a personal note, a religious passage, a quotation, etc. Having affixed their ‘blessing’ to the tree, the parents embrace the bride and groom.

Blank cards are placed at each table setting at the reception venue. This provides guests with the opportunity to affix their own note to the tree as well. By evening’s end the tree is covered with the loving sentiments of the guests.

When planted at their home, the couple gains a living memorial to their wedding day. As it matures it will shade them and their home, its changing leaves marking the seasons as well, and its beauty reminding them of the love and well wishes of their guests once borne on its branches.


Roses to Respective Mothers

Many feel indebted to their families, especially their parents. What better time and way to say thank you than with the presenting of roses to each mother–showing gratitude and respect for the major contribution your parents made to your life.

The bride and groom approach the bride’s parents first. Parents rise at the approach of the bride and groom, receive the rose and embrace the bride and groom. This is repeated for the groom’s parents.


The Blessing of the Hands

Holding the hands expresses friendship, mutual aid, and love. The blessing of the hands reveals the importance to be present the one for the other, one in all aspects of your life in creating a loving home.


Final Blessing

"Thank you for helping us in celebrating our special day, and making it a memory of a lifetime. We truly appreciate all you’ve done for us."
- Jing and Cheng

Because all of those attending your ceremony are special friends and family, it is fitting that they, together with your wedding party, pray the final blessing included in your wedding brochure.


Your embrace and first wedding kiss

Recessional Walk

To give the guests a chance to participate in the finale of your wedding consider giving everyone a wedding bell with an inscription about the both of you attached to it. As you walk down the aisle, tend to hundreds of these little bells will proclaim the beginning of your married life.

Have your ushers place a bell on every seat before the ceremony begins. Regardless of which accessory you choose (bubbles, petals, bells, etc.) it is helpful for these items to be placed on seats before the event begins.

Your bridal party members follow you down the aisle. If you wish, they can join you in the reception line. Parents are generally included in the receiving line.


An Outdoor Ceremony

Planning for an outdoor ceremony calls for environmental considerations. This becomes an integral part of the planning of your ceremony. An alternative option is helpful in case of rain, cold or excessive heat. The more comfortable you and your guests are, the more present and
attentive all will be to your special moment.

Wedding in the Park

A non-competitive environment free of audio or visual distractions (including mobile phones) again ensures full attending of you and your guests to your ceremony.


Backyard Weddings

"We can’t thank you enough for the beautiful ceremony that you created and officiated for us. It was absolutely perfect. All of us were so moved, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Your attention to detail and organizational skills really put us at ease as well. I’m glad you enjoyed it also! We hope our paths cross again. We’ll be singing your praises to all future brides we run into!" - Channing and Laura

If you are looking for an alternate to the traditional church wedding and formal reception, oftentimes a backyard wedding can be a great alternative.


  • Sentiments. Think how special it would be to get married at your childhood house. To be able to get dressed in your childhood bedroom. What a great way to connect different parts of your life. Or, how about getting married at your own house? A wedding at the house where the two of you will be living is a special way to start your life together.
  • Cost. By having the wedding and reception at your house, you will save the money normally spent on another location.
  • Casual and Relaxed. A backyard wedding is generally a casual and relaxed event.

Things to keep in mind

  • Your neighbors. A wedding at your house will require the support of your neighbors, even if they are not invited. Cars will be parked up and down your street. Loud music will probably be playing. You should make sure your neighbors don’t have a problem with your plans well in advance of your big day.
  • Parking. Building from the above, you will need to make sure there is enough parking around your house for all your guests. While you may be able to have your guests park on the street, make sure they can do so legally. Tow trucks descending on your wedding will not be a good way to start the reception.
  • Nuisance Laws. You’ll need to know the noise ordinances for your area. You don’t want a police visit.
  • Pets. Many pet owners would like their pets to be part of the ceremony, some even going so far as using a cat or dog as the ring bearer. But you also don’t want your dog running around during your vows. Or trying to eat off your guests’ plates during the reception.
  • Alcohol. Some cities have ordinances against serving alcohol to guests.
  • Weather. What are your plans if the weather is bad? Is there enough room in your house in case you have to bring your guests inside?


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